Selecting the highly skilled: norms and practices of the Swiss admission system for non-EU immigrants


  • Metka Hercog University of Basel
  • Laure Sandoz University of Basel



highly skilled migrants, immigration policy, policy implementation, immigration control, Switzerland


This article problematizes the concept of highly skilled migrants through an analysis of policy documents and interviews with key informants involved in the admission process in Switzerland. Current political discourse classifies foreigners differently according to their country of origin and skill level. Existing legislation prioritizes immigrants from the European Economic Area and is very restrictive towards third-country nationals. By examining the implementation of the admission policy for labour migration, this article evaluates which criteria matter most to state authorities when determining if someone is a desirable immigrant. Despite its stress on qualifications and economic interest, the admission process for third-country workers was also found to fulfil non-economic objectives such as providing the impression of state control over immigration and of state protection of local populations from migrants. Building on this observation, the article argues that more in-depth studies are required to better understand how states reconcile the different objectives of immigration governance in practice.

Author Biographies

Metka Hercog, University of Basel

Metka Hercog works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Cultural Antropology and European Ethnology at the University of Basel. She is a part of the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) project "On the Move", researching mobility of the highly skilled towards Switzerland. She also works as a lecturer in Global Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Laure Sandoz, University of Basel

Laure Sandoz works as a doctoral researcher at the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology of the University of Basel since October 2014. Her PhD research is about institutions and agents that structure the mobility of highly skilled migrants in Switzerland. Ms. Sandoz completed her Master’s in social science at the University of Neuchâtel and was awarded a price of excellence for her MA results.


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How to Cite

Hercog, M., & Sandoz, L. (2018). Selecting the highly skilled: norms and practices of the Swiss admission system for non-EU immigrants. Migration Letters, 15(4), 503–515.